January 4, 2013

"Gatsby’s notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news."

That's from Chapter 6. I'm getting used to these F. Scott Fitzgerald sentences (as I continue with this Gatsby project, taking one sentence out of context every day). Each one — so far — has a little narrative arc, with perhaps a missing center or a surprising ending. In today's sentence, we see a process of inflation and then deflation.

"Gatsby’s notoriety" — Gatsby has fame. He's big. We begin this sentence with bigness. The word "notoriety" tends to refer to a negative sort of fame. For example, E.M. Forster, in "Room with a View," wrote: "Mrs. Honeychurch... would abandon every topic to inveigh against those women who (instead of minding their houses and their children) seek notoriety by print." Imagine what she would think about blogger ladies. 

But back to Gatsby. He's got notoriety — which is bigness — and it spreads. It gets bigger.

It is spread about by the hundreds — now the sense of inflation comes not in the form of the great Gatsby but the hundreds, the horde of people. Who are they? They are the ones who "had accepted his hospitality," so there's an inference of big parties. In moving from Gatsby to the hundreds, we see a transaction occurring. Gatsby is giving hospitality and getting fame-spreading. The fame comes in the form that he wants. It's a joke to say that these people are "authorities on his past." Drawn to his parties, they got loaded with the stories he wanted told. He plied them, got them drunk with an illusion of authority, which motivates them to spread Gatsby's PR. And they spread it successfully because of their belief in the stories they are telling. The hundreds desire inflated size too, and if they are authorities, they have it, and they seem to love to go about in the world, flaunting their bigness, even as they are dupes for Gatsby, increasing his notoriety.

Notice the progression of -ity/-ety words in the sentence: notoriety, hospitality, authority. There's poetry to the sound alone, but the similarity of these words makes us feel a logic to the mechanism operating here. Hospitality promotes authority and thus notoriety.

We finally arrive at the verb of this sentence: increased. If we were diagramming this sentence, we'd build around notoriety | increased. The bigness got bigger. We've arrived at the peak of the narrative arc, where we get to stay all summer until — "until" is the word that warns of change — he fell. He fell! We are plummeting into the back end of this arc. He fell just short. Where's our bigness now? We get our 2 jarring smallness words: fell and short. And now we arrive at the punchline: just short of being news.

He was so big, he had his hundreds and his notorietyincreasing all summer — but in the end, how big was he? He didn't break the surface of the public consciousness. He wasn't news.

36 comments:

sydney said...

That is a nice sentence when you dissect it that way, but when I read it initially, I was a little confused by that "and so become authorities on his past" phrase. I was thinking of his notoriety and thought the phrase somehow referred to it rather than "the hundreds." I had to read it a second time to get the proper association. The sentence works without "and so become authorities on his past" but not as well. Without that phrase you don't get that subtle insult to his guests. They're just spreading rumors they heard at his parties. They don't really know a thing about him.

traditionalguy said...

Starting rumors of The Great Gatsby is validated by the appearance of the home...it is a political-economic power announcement rather than a place to live.

The quickest successful con men have the House, the Art Works, the costliest cars,and the best jewelry.

Then the police show up sooner or later.

bagoh20 said...

Scotty IS pretty good at that. The best, and with so many in one book. He was in the zone that year.

"an enormous power in me now, more than I've ever had"

sabeth.chu said...

every day spent with fitzgerald is a brighter day.

the only other author with a similar effect is jane austen.


Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Very cynical.

Notoriety implies "bad" and who is the first to talk bad about you but the people you help, right? In this case he has supplied them with opulent parties at no expense and the opportunity to be at the trendy spot.

They have become authorities on his past. To who? To all the people they name drop him to when they are trying to enhance their own reputations.

The little name droppers didn't succeed as what they think they know isn't really news, is it. And "just short" is a sarcastic way of saying not even close.

Surfed said...

Diagramming sentences is a lost artform...as is cursive and...oh nevermind. It is the 21st century. Why dwell on the past unless it's a . . . Gatsby.

Conserve Liberty said...

Emerson, Melville, Whitman, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner.

America was, once, truly, great.

CWJ said...

No quibble today! Excellent analysis. And another great sentence. One wonders though. Did Gatsby want to be news?

mccullough said...

Conservative Liberty,

Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy are great writers who are still living. There will always be a handful of great writers. You're more stuck in the past than Gatzby.

Michael said...

Mccullough. Harold Bloom called "Blood Meridian" the best American Novel, better than Moby Dick.

harrogate said...

Great engagement with that sentence. And this, from Mid-Life Lawyer:

"The little name droppers didn't succeed as what they think they know isn't really news, is it. And 'just short' is a sarcastic way of saying not even close."

is exactly on point.

F. Scott did some serious damage in that novel.

harrogate said...

I love, love, love Blood Meridian but I think Bloom is on crack for elevating it above Moby Dick. You know what MD has, that Blood Meridian does not? Strong elements of Good Cheer. It has the character, Ishmael. That makes a big, big difference.

Michael said...

Harrogate. You are right about the absence of good cheer in Blood Meridian. There is none. I have a happy and optimistic view of life but think Blood Meridian one of the finest novels I have read. I think people will be reading McCarthy long after Pynchon and Barth and Ford and McGuane are forgotten.

harrogate said...

Michael,

I am very happy to hear you are a McCarthy affecianado. I have devoured all of his novels and though it hurts to downgrade any of them in any way, I 'cheerfully' cede that Blood Meridian is his biggest homerun of them all. But O my, the first time I read Child of God, which was my first McCarthy. Or Outer Dark.

Or that kick in the gut known as the first time you read The Road.

But McCarthy, he DOES have elements of the humor and good cheer in him. Both The Orchard Keeper and especially Suttree have moments where, if you're not laughing, you're not reading. :-)

Pragmatist said...

My favorite book....one of the few I was glad that my HS teacher made me read.

Pragmatist said...

My favorite book....one of the few I was glad that my HS teacher made me read.

sydney said...

I've never read Blood Meridian, but the Wikipedia synopsis makes it sound terribly violent and dreadful. Like so much of modern cinema.

Michael said...

Harrogate: I think The Road a great small piece. Not so wild about the earlier, Tennessee writing. It is as though he needed the big spaces of the west to fuel his highest talents. His vast talent.

bpm4532 said...

Obama is the modern day Gatsby.

bpm4532 said...

There is no there, there.

bpm4532 said...

A man with a mysterious past, whom everyone wants to know and professes to know a great about. They really like the parties and how they feel about themselves when asked to and attend one.

edutcher said...

You read the sentence and it sounds as if he's about to become boring.

bpm4532 said...

How rude it would be to ask hard questions of the host.

ricpic said...

"News" in the formulation "he fell short of being news" means that he wasn't part of "society," since only the doings of those in society are newsworthy to the rest of society. Notoriety, of the sort that Gatsby commanded, doesn't get you in.

ricpic said...

Conserve Liberty left out the perennially underrated Thomas Wolfe in his list of greats.

Dean Douthat said...

And after Summer follows a fall.

mccullough said...

Blood Meridian is awesome. So is Gravity's Rainbow. Those books will still be read in 100 years.

mccullough said...

Nick Carraway is judgmental throughout the novel but he changes subtly

Penny said...

Since we are parsing sentences without context, I'm rather surprised that no one chose to update it into the internet age.

"Gatsby's notoriety, spread about by the hundreds of thousands who had accepted his hospitality on social networks and internet forums, and so had become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being on the nightly news, most likely because he failed to produce a viral YouTube."

Bummer for Fitzgerald that he was born before his time.

Or not?

harrogate said...

The syntax arrangement of the sentence really causes the "hundreds who had accepted his hospitality" to come across in the worst possible light. In context, it's one of the little moments that so beautifully sets up Carraway's final anger at this crowd, these parasites. It really is a gorgeous merger or style and content.

St. George said...

Fitzgerald would be at home today at Vogue or "W" magazine writing treacly profiles of fashion designers.

Everything about the sentence is crap.

His 'notoriety,' a pompous word, is not merely spread, it is "spread about" perhaps manuring the landscape the way Fitzgerald litters the page with his output.

The sentence hits its twin peaks of pretension with the use of the words "so" and "just," both of which should be vaporized with a linguistic flamethrower.

Here, by contrast, is a sample of good writing:

"The bullets showered the ocean in a glittering downpour. Looking up, Louie saw them popping through the canvas, shooting beams of intensely bright tropical sunlight through the raft's shadow. But after a few feet, the bullets spent their force and fluttered down, fizzing....As the bullets raked overhead, Louie struggled to stay under the rafts. The current clutched at him, rotating his body horizontally and dragging him away."

The verb creates pictures. Not a word is out of place or unnecessary.

The above is from "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand.

Not only can this broad write, she is smokin' hot, a real piece of literary ass.

wyo sis said...

"Just short of being news" is ten times more powerful than short of being news.
"And so" is the shortest way to say what he means. Any other construction would be wordy or awkward.

Ralph L said...

they got loaded with the stories he wanted told.
I don't remember that Gatsby was the source of the rumors, but it's been a while.

Now I can't remember how he did become rich in a such a short time. Conned a con man?

This sentence reminds me of my favorite quote from Louis XIV: I have but just escaped waiting.

Valentine Smith said...

I haven't read AA or the comments so "pardon my redundancy" if need be.

I ask you, is it possible to be notorious and NOT be news? Hardly. What number above hundreds in our narrator's eyes would have sufficed to have pushed this notoriety past the threshold for "news"? I venture a guess—none. The real question is how did our narrator become aware of this "notoriety" himself?

It seems to me our narrator, whomever he or she may be, displays bad faith with readers in the form of a sarcasm that reveals his contempt for his subject. After all, the payoff for Gatsby's "hospitality" is to be merely talked about, not exaltedly mind you, but pejoratively, at least to high-minded people or those who fancy themselves such. Does this Gatsby fellow care? Is it infamy he seeks? Or is it acceptance among those, who like our narrator, detest him? I assume our narrator has benefited from some of this generous largesse and so to pay back this generosity with such arrogant contempt bespeaks a meager character at best or a scoundrel at worst.

Or perhaps it is ambivalence. For the narrator also flaunts a certain contempt for the "hundreds". Were they mere hangers-on? Is his contempt for them also contempt for himself as he may very well rank among them. Does he share with them the source of his own knowledge of Gatsby's notoriety as party guest?

deborah said...

I think we lose sight of the purpose of this project if we mince the words. The idea is to look at the quality of the sentence, and as Althouse says, it's has an arc. It's a great sentence, and is also a micro-encapsulation of the entire book.

Albert Hammond said...

What literary device is used in this quote?